Saturday, 18 November 2017

#343: Amsterdam

It's taken me six years of regular Amsterdam visits to finally get to Biercafe Gollem and when I landed there on a sunny and mild October afternoon I found the perfect beer to mark the occasion; another surprising absence from my book of ticks, regular old Boon Oude Geuze.

It's simple and workmanlike, the kind of farmhouse beer that one can actually imagine coming from and belonging in a Belgian farmhouse of old, quenching a labourer's thirst. It did mine, and all I did was get up at 4am to catch a flight to a bar across the sea. There's a decent amount of acidity, lower than the Mariage Parfait or Black Label, but strong enough to give the tongue a good scouring and the palate a welcome jolt. Behind it comes a rather watery wheaty body, lacking the fulsome satisfaction of its older siblings but doing a solid job throughout. 

Something more local next, and the season and setting surely dictates a bokbier. This is Château Akkerman Bokbier from Oedipus, and it's characteristically dark red-brown with a worryingly dull appearance. This whisper of homebrewish amateurism continues in the taste; it works like a disappointingly average beer I'd make at home - something I had high hopes for and, while it didn't mutate horribly into phenolic or acidic doom, just fails to taste alive. In other words, it's muddy yet thin and has unwelcome tannins even though the red berry and toffee characteristics try their level best to keep things cheerful. I left quite a bit of it at my table and went off. 

On a later visit, I stuck with what I know; the wonderful Oerbier.

Northern Farm Eagle
All of the rest of the drinking about town (bar one bottle-read on) happened in the Arendsnest. This time it was properly warmish in the sun so we settled in to our canalside seating and I settled in to De Natte Gijt's 7e Gijtje. This is a session rye saison of just 2.5% and I am pleased to say it is fabulous. It comes bright orange and gives wafts of properly grassy hops, fresh bread and very soft spice of the typical peppery sort. It is by far and way the best beer of this strength or similar that I've tried, the rye being refreshing and bright yet padding out the tiny body admirably. Impressive and delicious, though absolutely sinful to serve in such low quantities. 

Sparked up and in the mood I went for more saison, this a hoppy one named Northern Farm Eagle and, yes, it's a Nordt/Morebeer thing. There's yet more spice in this one in the form of a slightly Dupont-y nose. The body, though, is sweeter than the 7e Gijtje at 5.5%. Again it's got fresh and leafy hops in spades to go with a touch of caramel in its body. More lovely refreshing stuff.

De Prael RIS
By now I was almost too refreshed, so I went for De Prael's R.I.S. It's a good, robust stout of 8.7%, something a more old-fashioned brewer may have called an extra stout, at least in flavour. There is none of the concentration of malt flavour veined with alcohol that many imperial stouts might give you; just solid roast, coffee, tobacco leaf and light milk chocolate on a slick and light body. Decent and uncomplicated.

The next day I returned and commenced my own personal Bokbierfest (not affiliated with the actual PINT Bokbierfest that I always conspire to miss).

First, though, was Uiltje's Commissaris Rex, because its the first time I've seen anything pouring from cask on one of my visits. It's billed as a doppel sticke, so is an altbier of sorts, and arrives a foamy mohogany colour and suggests plenty of bock-like chewy toffee and raisin on the nose. There's a robust bitterness that does great work in balancing that slick, smooth dark malt core, as well as a slight suggestion of booze somewhere in the middle in spite of its inherent drinkability. This is gloriously hearty and satisfying and is truly flourishing on cask, though I'd be happy to find it again in any form possible.

On to bock then with Slot Oostende's Schorrebock. Things take a turn for the sweeter here, showing red berries and marzipan before the finish does its best to dry up, leaving behind forest fruits and caramel. After the fun I had with Rex, it's an unmistakable step down, but serviceable all the same.

SNAB Ezelenbok
Staff here are always thar barr and my server on the day nursed me through my bokbierfest FOMO by offering me samples of the other bocks on offer, her favourite being Kees! Indian Summer Doppelbock. It should be heavy for 8.5% but plays quite light, except there's a light string of hammy smoke running through the pale caramel chewy body. Smoke is something I rarely crave in a beer, and when I do, I find it difficult to see past Schlenkerla. Call me a philistine, I don't care. I passed. 

I didn't pass on SNAB's Ezelenbok 2016, another red-brown number with a big doppelbock-like nose of toffee and orange peel. Beyond that it's rather simple, sweet stuff. 

Also quite simple but in a less enjoyable manner is Leckere's Rode Toren, which is redder and meatier than the Ezelenbok. There's some coarse cereal stuff too, on a powdery milk chocolate base. 

There weren't as many sneaky bottles in accommodation this time around, but I couldn't pass on an Oude Mûre à l'Ancienne from Tilquin. It's murky and flat and an unappealing pink-brown colour. Acid is to the fore here , with the fruit relegated to the latter stages. There's almost no fizz to carry this, making it harder work than I'd like from a Tilquin, but the eye-watering price tag you soldier on.

Much easier going was Datisandere Koekoek from Amsterdammers Bird Brewery, though this was brewed at Jopen. It's a saison and it's actuaslly quite delightful, with white pepper playing off lemongrass effervescence to make for a simple, easy drinker that packs in all the essential saison bits rather neatly. 

There was no rest for the liver thereafter as the following weekend had the Franciscan Well's oft-maligned (by me) October beer festival, but that's for another time.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

#342: Edublirghin

It was the start of June and the day was sweaty and dry and I had a few hours to kill in the Christchurch area so it only made sense that I would hobble thirstily into the Beer Market just after opening.

The Sober Destrier was down the road getting tattooed for a couple of hours so the extensive beer list was my liquid oyster yet, despite an embarrassment of mostly imported guest taps, I had to go for a house beer.

Careen is a lager that I believe was billed as German-style without much of an indication as to what that is, but it was bright gold and ever-so-slightly hazy so I'm happy.

I'm happy with the taste too; a softly sweet barley syrup lays the foundation for a fairly robust bitterness. It wavers back and forth between stalky German pils and melanoidin-y malty Helles but either way makes for incredibly refreshing and enjoyable quaffing.
I had a second, with a hape of big chunky chips.

I followed that with Godspeed. This one arrives as a solid, turbid orange scoop. A tart front of mango and pineapple leads the way for sweet creamy sorbet in the finish, staying tropical throughout. There's a flash of soapiness that a cynic might cling to, but for me it was just a passing wave and a common enough risk when a beer goes into Lilt territory. In any case it's tasty and drinkable and a properly fruity palate cleansing sour.

The eve-cap was Banished Sun, an imperial porter of 8%. It comes black and almost headless in the glass. Bittersweet dark chocolate is the main effect of the beer, and it's laid on pretty thick and creamy. There's a time and place for this kind of thing, and this probably wasn't it. In any case it's a bit simple for the strength, lacking anything that would call me back for seconds in future.

And that was Dublin. Not long after that, in the beginning of July, more college work brought the Sober Destrier to Edinburgh, and, though the trip was short and not beer-orientated, it was thrilling to finally set foot in Scotland after many years of delay.
The place 2 b for fancy beers is the Hanging Bat and my first in the door was a Kernel of all things. Their Table Beer it was, a 3.1% that comes pale, slightly hazy and a fun start of new world hop stuff, more tropical than citrus. However, all turns to onion pretty fast which is especially disappointing in such a light and tweensy beer. Such savoury bang makes it way too hard to drink to be anything like a functional table beer so I'm miffed.

So miffed that I dive straight into the deep end with Dry & Bitter/Pyrata's Black Flag collaboration, a thick and oily 13% stout. It has all the expected hallmarks of such a beer minus excessive heat. Funnily enough there's a mild savoury edge to this one too but in a completely different form; here it's a touch of slightly salty soy sauce, a turn I usually associate with a strong black beer that's been aged, barrelled or both, though I don't believe either of those things apply to Black Flag. This is just an aside from the main event, which is a celebration of sweet vanilla and coconut against coffee and dark bitter chocolate.  Lovely stuff, even if it did mean I had to go away and have a nice lie down.

The rest of the beering happened in the naff student accommodation we'd booked in the form of bottles bought at The Salt Horse, a rather smart bottle shop with on-site drinking next door, I think. 

As the last two were forn I went native with Six Degrees North, though this is a native brewery with very Belgian designs for life. This first bottle is a collaboration with D.O.M. brewing, ATC 1.4. It's billed as a Belgian brown fermented in whisky barrels from Speyside, Lowland and Islay blended together. For all that remarkable information it's hardly surprising when the thing comes out weird. It's brown in a Yorkshire relish kind of way, approaching tartness before this is curbed by wood and whisky. At 7.8% there are flares of booze here and there and a finish of apple skin tannins. The afters offer more unusual flair, with blooms of smoke that speak of Islay in a kind of chemically/painty way. Bloody quare fare, and not exactly the kind of thing I'm going to be runing back to, but there you have it.

I was even less impressed by 6°N's collab with Twelve Triangles, ATC 2.2, enticingly featuring sourdough and intriguingly featuring only 2.4% alcohol. A sourdough starter is the thing here, and it hasn't done much. The resulting beer is murky, orange and flat, while a very generous taster will note mild acidity, mild bread and nothing else. Even this is a stretch, with the glass seeming to last for way too long.

A step in the right direction is Brevet Saison from the same brewer, starting out pretty well with soft pepper and floral notes. Unfortunately this turns to syrupy lemon that cloys and destroys. This is #NotMySaison.

The helpful staff in The Salt Horse recommended the wares of Little Earth Project of Suffolk so I went away with Hedgerow Sour - Blackberry and Nettle. As I was warned this one pours dead flat too and cola brown. Excitement comes in the form of a blast of balsamic, wood, sour fruit and acid. Dark fruity malts lay a fairly robust backbone for just 4.7%, but there's none of the cocoa powder softness you might find in other sour brown powerhouses like Rodenbach Grand Cru. For all it's serious puckering sourness it's actually fairly easy and refreshing going down, with a touch of jammy sweetness doing its utmost in the interest of balance. There's plenty of evidence of fruit additions, through not so much of the nettle. This isn't important, as ultimately the experience is a good one.

Similarly uncarbonated is Little Earth's South Island Sour. As the name suggests it does recall flashes of sauvignon blanc, channelling its light acidity and rounder fruit. There's no tropical fruit, though, just a slick presence of lemon and lime with waxy bitterness to offset that light sourness. Decent and enjoyable stuff.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

#341: Green Beer

Something that hasn't happened in quite some time on this blog - new Irish IPA.

First up was Whiplash's Saturate, a single hop Mosaic double IPA. Looking slick as the divil in new white 440ml cans it pours pale yellow and slightly hazy. It's pleasantly sharp on the nose with lemon zest and pineapple. There's a delicious drop of sugary resin at its core but it never strays into the dank and sweaty territory I'd fear from Mosaic, nor is there any of the onion thing it's infamous for. I'm glad of all this; Saturate is a clean and round DIPA that has plenty of malt ballast without ever appearing too sweet or heavy. Very tasty, and probably better than the Surrender to the Void that this brewer introduced itself with.

Drone Logic seems to be essentially the same beer; a double IPA of 8% with oats and wheat in the bill, though this time single-hopped with Simcoe. And it's Simcoe alright, with plenty of tropical fruit in the main but a slightly wonky afters - cardboard at best, ammonia at worst. Thankfully, this is only a shadow and the beer remain comfortably within the realm of fruitiness. There's even a touch of acidity, presumably from intense hopping, alongside the robust and quite pleasant bitterness. The afters are a nice, sweet mix of all colours of Starburst.

Of the two, I feel I like the Saturate more, surprising as, on paper, Simcoe should be closer to the Citrus and Pine(TM) type of profile I usually champion in an IPA. That these two are thick and oaty and seemingly devoid of crystal - the bane of so many of those IPAs - is probably no coincidence. This is IPA now.


New England IPA really is the style du jour and, about a year and half after people started banging about them I'm trying my first.

White Hag's Atlantean is the beer and, while hazy, isn't the horrible chicken-soup opacity plaguing Instagram on any given beer-related hashtag. It's also a terribly fun and fruity number. There's not a hint of sweaty armpits, just light, dry, refreshing soft drink tropical and citrus fruit delivered on soft drink effervescence. It's incredibly drinkable and goes away fast without you trying or knowing, which is probably as good an indicator of a beer's worth. Try it.

It's perhaps not surprising that the first new IPAs I've enjoyed in some time come from undoubtedly two of the country's better brewers. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

#340: Fruit Shoots

Long before a perfectly sculpted beard juiced a grapefruit into a bog standard IPA, fruited beer was a thing. One of the places in which it was most definitely a thing is the Payottenland in Belgium.

Raspberries and cherries are the most traditional lambic additions and the crowning bottle in the cupboard for some time has been Drie Fonteinen's Intense Red. This is a particularly young lambic with cherries and boy does it shine.

It pours clear as crystal with a vibrant pink/purple head that dies near instantly. Thereafter it's a beautiful expression of kriek; pure, fresh fruit with the perfect balance of acidity and soft sweetness. There's a cherry cola thing that opens for the ripe tartness that acts as an enhancement of the usual cherry sherbert stuff. It's gorgeous and vinous without any wood character or maturity, pushing the fruit to the fore above all else.
Wonderful stuff.
A different, more conventional kind of kriek comes in the form of Oud Beersel's Oude Kriek Vieille. It's clear and dark red and produces a burst of sour cherry right from the beginning. There are shades of almondy depth in behind, giving a weirdly filling impression of tart cherry marzipan. This particular bottle was a good deal older than one I had at Christmas last and that satisfying depth and weight is something the younger bottle lacked. Apple skin tannins mop up the finish, adding points for drinkability that may have been lost amid the complexity. 
Contrary to what I would expect with a fruited beer, this one seemed better for having lay about for five years, where the fresh bottle (not on the blog) was an admittedly fruitier but ultimately more pedestrian affair.

Things get wyrd again with Hannssens Experimental Raspberry Lambic, though truth be told I'm not exactly sure what's supposed to be experimental about it. Perhaps it is simply the decision not to call it a framboise.

In any case, it is still as death and super sour, its tawnied-pink appearance looking - and perhaps smelling - more like a raspberry vinaigrette than anything else. Thankfully the fruit on the palate is actually quite clean and fresh-tasting, almost fun, before an acid bath spoilsport takes away any of the refreshing joy I usually find in good lambic. It's worth dabbling in, if only for the one, but the sheer sour power makes it a bit too much like hard work for my liking.
No fruit goes into Blossomgueuze, second in a series of weird lambics made by Lindemans. The producers have presumably saved the elderberries for jam and instead used elderflower to flavour this geuze. It pours surprisingly clear in the burnished gold tones of filtered Czech lager. Add to that a hint of a skunky nose and you have a wobble start indeed. However, all of this is forgotten with an intense sour attack of mouth-filling, citric acid-laden wheat. There are flowery elements, but not in any overtly elderflowery sort of way; if I hadn't been told there was elderflower in it, I would certainly not have guessed. This is almost a relief, as I had worried about dodgy over-flavourings before I opened the bottle. Most surprising of all is a note of juicy, tart mango that comes from nowhere into the finish and aftertaste, combining wonderfully with the lemon acidity of the beer and leaving you with the impression of having just had some fresh tropical and citrus fruit. 

Fresh, bright, delicious; this is refreshing, drinkable and eminently fun lambic, and even if the elderflower didn't assert itself as elderflower, in the end Lindemans have just made a fantastic geuze.

Monday, 21 August 2017

#339: Geuzzards

Mothership Boon is upon us and the obvious place to start for me is with one of my favourite beers ever, Black Label.

Black Label is an annual release that is intended to be the driest geuze from the Boon stable, which sounds right about my style.

An explosive opening leads the way for a crystal clear appearance with big soapy bubbles. The nose gets mouth-watering sour candy and the palate gets a thorough scouring with plenty of sourness and effervescence. It is beautifully dry, but not distinctively more than good geuze from the likes of Drei Fonteinen or Cantillon. 

It's quenching and refreshing and despite the strength (7% this iteration), relatively light of body.

More full-bodied is Geuze Mariage Parfait. I already spoke about the kriek in this range and it's a surprise even to me that the geuze hasn't featured on the blog, considering it's a regular feature in the fridge. Like the Black Label it has a high ABV, though a notch higher at 8%, and also like the Black Label it drinks far easier than it should, though it does have a bigger body. There's plenty of wheaty fullness and citrus fruits with another bone dry finish. 

These two are my favourite Boon beers and two of my favourite lambics full stop. As wonderfully simple and well-executed as good lambic can be.

Up next, fruit.

Friday, 4 August 2017

#338: Geuze of the World

This post heralds the beginning of a relentless jettisoning of tasting notes concerning that most appropriate of summer beer styles - and a personal favourite style of mine - geuze. At least, mostly geuze, as I will of course deviate from time to time to include anything in the lambic bracket. The notebook is positively heaving with the fruits of my ongoing obsession with Payottenland produce, so lets just get through this.

Top of the queue is De Troch's Cuvée Chapeau Lambic Oude Geuze, if that's really what they're calling it. The lack of that pleasing 'pop' of the cork suggested a low level of carbonation that was confirmed by my strenuous efforts to conjure any foam into existence.
Sure enough it's flat in the mouth with a much softer acidity than I'd expect. In fact, it's quite round, as these things go; plenty of straw and wheat pad out the body before a full, pungent and earthy finish.
This relative lack of meaningful fizz gives the beer a sense of weight that makes it less refreshing than other geuze. Despite this, there's a lot to like about Cuvée Chapeau; it's a particularly musty lambic, suggesting age and recalling to mind memories of summer in an old family haunt in Lispole, all old furniture and country air.
Pangs of nostalgia aside, the big takeaway from the beer itself is of that aforementioned pungency and lovely bloomy, mushroomy finish.
Curious stuff and well worth investigation, even if I do likes em fizzier.

Much more my speed is Moriau Oude Geuze, a brand I'd never heard of before that, a quick Google tells me, is made by geuze wizards (geuzzards?) Boon.
This is more my kind of geuze; a good deal more effervescent, slightly cloudy and with a patently gritty, wheaty nose. It's gorgeously balanced with citrusy acidity and a pillowy wheaty fullness that makes it easy to drink but substantial and satisfying. Almost a quaffer, in total defiance of its 7% wattage. Slight shades of Boon's own Mariage Parfait on show here.

Dekoninck Oude Gueuze a l'Ancienne, also from Boon, is the simplest of the lot, being a total quaffer with the fizz and buzz and acid all doing a good job adding up to an easy-drinking lambic, if a touch on the lighter side. It tastes younger than all of the above, though my perception could of course be way off. In any case, it's just not got the same satisfying heft as the Moriau above, or indeed other good geuzes.

Another unknown brand came my way in the form of St Louis Geuze Fond Tradition, though at the time of drinking I wasn't aware of its credentials and thought I'd paid good money for FAKE GEUZE.

Thankfully, the nose suggests it's authentic stuff; sour citrus and wheat, and those hallmarks in the flavour too. There's also something bigger and deeper at work here - a sort of burn or rubbery thickness that top shelf geuze does without.
The finish brings it back on track, with a bizarrely candy-fake fruitiness keeping things on the cheerful side, and the whole thing never loses its characteristic geuzey grist.
It's grand, but not Grand.

To step closer to the light from which most of these came, the next post (in this series) will feature some mothership Boon brands.

Monday, 24 July 2017

#337: Roden's Back

When I finally opened Rodenbach's Caractère Rouge, an iteration of the brewery's classic aged Flemish red resplendent with cherries and raspberries, for some reason I was expecting something not unlike the Rodenbach Vintage.
However, there are no such thick chocolatey malts and no leathery, woody evidence of age. In fact, this is a bright and pretty beer packed with clean, fruity raspberry jam. There's the lovely sweet and tart to-ing and fro-ing I particularly enjoy in regular Rodenbach, with perhaps more sour berries playing off sweet cereals than in that youth-heavy blend. In any case it represents a fairly good return for the investment of money and fruit.

Refreshing and eminently drinkable, I would love more of this.

...which is good, because Alexander from the same producer gives you something quite like it. As far as I can tell the main selling point here is that cherries are are the sole added novelty, and they are evident from the beginning; a fresh, sweet and Double Dip-like sherberty thing. After this start it simply reverts to good ol' Rodenbach loveliness; more fruit and cereal-sweet tartness with added leather and a touch of balsamic reminiscent of the Vintage but remaining bright and fun throughout.

Good stuff, but, even more so than the Caractère Rouge, I don't know if the price gets you anything much better than the Grand Cru or even cheap tinny extraordinaire Rodenbach. I guess that's the problem with having a good lineup.

Friday, 26 May 2017

#336: Manchester

Christian Bale Ale
Once again, Sober Destrier's PhD work brought her abroad and once again I tagged along. The destination this time was Manchester for a single night, though thankfully early outbound and late inbound flights at Cork mean you can get the best part of two full days for your money. I was half aware that Machester had a wealth of top beer options and thanks to some advice from beery Twitter, I had a lengthy list to cherry pick from.

The first cherry is The Font. This is a studenty bar no more than a stone's throw from Manchester Metropolitan University dealing in craft beer and the burger-nachos type of menu that seems to fuel the local student population. There weren't many of those in when we stopped by early in the afternoon and sunk into a well-worn leather couch. The décor here is thrifty and bohemian and the beer looks good.

I started with Hawkshead's NZ Pale, a 6%-er with a bit more sweat and diacetyl than I'd like harshing my NZ buzz. A big bitterness with a smattering of sweet tutti-frutti forms the main chunk of the beer and there are tropical leanings that get me interested but it's all overshadowed by that spiky, sweaty body. Close, but no cigar.

Upstairs at 47 Thomas Street
Danish outfit Dry and Bitter's Christian Bale Ale followed this. It's a single hopped Mosaic pale ale of 4.4% and was a surprisingly good cleanser, offering clear, pretty and lightly juicy stuff without any of Mosaic's famed oniony hangups. Far easier to drink but a nitpicker might say not as characterful as the NZ Pale. This was all we had time for at Font, but I regretted leaving the place - service here was good and friendly, a theme in Manchester, and there was still plenty of exploration to do at the bar. Still, on we go.

Marble Pint

Much later in the day we find ourselves at 47 Thomas Street, a Marble outlet. Unfortunately we never made it to Marble Arch so this would serve as a surrogate. 
Just the one on the first visit, and it was flagship Pint. I don't know the style, but it's a lovely beer with a gorgeously puffy texture, showing its blond grist and grassy highlights in equal measure. Balanced and silky, it doesn't last long. As lovely as it is, I lament not having the chance to try its clearly native cask version - this one seems made for the ease and smoothness of cask, but the keg is bloody good. This was enjoyed in a totally empty upstairs bar that is bright, clean and attractive, and would have been a bit awkward if not for the once again lovely service.

What I did grab on cask the following evening is Lagonda IPA, and I even managed to enjoy it in the busy downstairs area, even though the poor bar staff had to walk the pint all the way downstairs to serve me. I'm glad she did though; it's bright and well suited to the pump - no bittersweet soup here. Lemon and lime and soft orange, it's all very respectable and balanced, again making for an eminently drinkable and silky pint.
Portent of Usher

I finished up at 47 Thomas Street with Portent of Usher, an imperial stout of 9% with plenty of bitter coffee and chocolate malt forming the first impression. There's a lick of smoke from the roast malt and a finish fo balanced chocolate, caramel and dark fruit elements.
That balance seems to be the theme here; all three of the beers have been very accomplished, polished and flavourful. Sadly, these were the only Marbles I had on the trip but it is safe to say I will return.

In between these two visits to Thomas Street was a stop in the wonderful bottle shop Beermoth for a couple of hotel beers, the first of which was Moor's apparently Star Wars-themed Imperial Entanglement.
Imperial red is the style billed and it gives mild coffee, red berries and bitter husky grain. There's much humming and hawing on my part before I have to conclude that, while interesting, it's just not interesting enough.

Café Beermoth
Much more interesting is Partizan's Royal Ale, brewed with riesling juice, no less. It's pale and yellow-gold and does a super slick dance of pear drops, syrup, light tropical fruits and soft peach. There's even a strand of straight riesling right at the finish, as well as a slightly tart edge.
Rather unusual stuff, but highly enjoyable.

The beery highlight of the trip was a visit to Café Beermoth, a simply stunning place to drink beer.

It's all dark wood and straight edges and right angles and hop bines and old bottles, without any nod towards the flayed-to-death raw industrial chic found in basically every craft beer bar in the world, I guess. There are no neon lights, no backlit taplists; this is a calm and almost serene place to indulge yourself and admire your surroundings comfortably, at leaston the quiet weekday afternoon we called in.

I started on the cask engine with Moor's Hoppiness, which gives happiness. Our booth is immediately filled with the aroma of sweet juicy citrus fruit. At 6% it is far easier to put back than you'd think - slick and smooth and spinning a rolodex of sweet mango, orange and lime without a drop of heat. It's only lightly bitter, just ebnough to balance, but doesn't quite leave the palate tingling afterwards. The only evidence of that 6% is the tiny sticky spot right at the finish, but overall the beer is a delightfully juicy and easy drinking IPA that need to be a mainstay everywhere fresh casks can be sourced.

More Tea Vicar?
We had arrived in from a drizzly Market Street around the corner but by now there was a torrential downpour outside. Admiring this form the cosy, quiet simplicity of the Café, I was called to the bar for some More Tea Vicar?, from Ilkley.

This is 6.2% IPA with, yes, tea, that appears pale and clearish and smells of grist and, yes, tea. There's definiely a strain of refreshing black tea that relegates the hop brightness to a later appearance. When they do show up, they offer a wonderful lemony counterpoint to the tea, making it a gorgeously clean, fruit and refreshing beer that tastes very English indeed. The perfect antidote to a drenched Manchester springtime afternoon.

BA Bible Belt
Feeling the need the steel myself before leaving the place I just had to stick my face in  Barrel-Aged Bible Belt, a 13% imperial stout from Praerie and Evil Twin with cacao, vanilla, chilli and coffee and aged in Heaven Hill barrels.
As you might expect with this sort of meddling and ABV it pours pitch black and headless and pleasantly oozes its dark aromatics. Thankfully, and indeed surprisingly, the beer is incredibly smooth and well integrated, to the point that it actually just tastes like a great big black beer, which is nice. It's rich in chocolate and even richer in vanilla. The coffee is sweeter with next to no bitterness or roast, while the whole thing is sweet without even approaching any sugary feel or cloying. The chilli was absent for me, but I didn't miss it.

Gorgeous stuff, and a fitting closer to my Manchester beering.


Manchester is a wonderfully beautiful, friendly, welcoming, happy, laid-back, diverse, and eminently liveable city. This was the case in April, when I visited, and I know when I return in the future - a return I can't wait for -  it will still be a beautiful, friendly, welcoming, happy, laid-back, diverse and eminently liveable city, regardless of the horrific, cowardly, barbaric and ultimately futile events of  the 22nd of May.


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

#335: Brotherly Love

This one's been waiting at least a year for his turn.

His name is Brother Thelonious, and as the name suggests, he is an American with fond memories and aspirations of Belgium, as well as an unflinchingly cool jazz spirit.

Belgian-syle abbey ale is the specific aspiration and Fort Bragg, California's North Coast do a good job conjuring memories of that type of thing with the crystal clear ruby-brown appearance of Brother Thelonious. Also reminiscent of Belgium is the lovely brown sugar sweetness present not only on the nose but particularly in the middle of the palate too. Thankfully there's no Lagunitas-style sugar bomb, as this one dries up after itself at the finish. Here you find dried figs and raisins, without any heavy booze or thick malt getting in the way, as well as a smattering of ground almonds. In fact, the whole thing plays rather elegantly and surprisingly light and drinkable for 9.4%. The only missing piece of the puzzle is the typical Belgian yeast-derived ester profile, but that's a minor detail when considering the wider enjoyable experience of the beer.

This passes the Belgian monks' digestibility test like no other American beer that I've encountered, and all while supporting jazz education in honour of the other relevant Monk. True, only one of those things really matters to me, but it's a pleasant footnote on an likewise very pleasant beer.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

#334: Agriable

I'm sure this particularly summery bottle had hoped to be opened about nine months ago, to live its brief life in the outdoors, soaking up a warm breeze and accompanying a soft Bavarian pretzel or somesuch. As it happened, it instead popped open in front of a fire early this year with nothing more ceremonious than a packet of supposedly fancy crisps. 
The beer is Piña Agria from Odell, and on opening I was worried. The cork doesn't look great; cracked and showing what looked like (and hopefully was nothing more suspect than) glue. From this same cork and indeed the neck of the bottle came a tang of, well, pee. No, really. Thankfully there's nothing of the sort once you get it into the glass; from here on out it's a wonderfully clean and fruity number that has more than a few shades of zesty pinot grigio or a particularly zingy sauvignon blanc, manifested as bountiful tropical pineapple, honeydew melon and a nice sherberty acidity. It's exceptionally easy to drink and incredibly moreish, tailored as it seems to be to hit that sour spot. Delicious.

I was desperately sad to see it go, especially considering the ~€20 price tag, but if you can convince a loved one to gift you a bottle for some special occasion, or if you just NEED FROOTY ACID, it's absolutely worth picking up.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

#333: After the Fall

This duo were part of a trio gifted to me by Lachie and Alison (thanks guys!) and comes from what was once their neck of the woods in Stirling.

The brewery is Fallen Brewing and there's a strong travel theme to the beers at hand, owing to their residence in a bona fide old railway station.

We start with New World Odyssey, which sounds nice. But then you read that it's a blonde, that broad and vague style moniker that brewers tend to apply to things that aren't exciting enough to call anything else and you wonder if your hopes for New World hop delivery are about to be dashed against the rocks. Thankfully they aren't, with fresh, zesty citrus getting up bright and early even if it is somewhat undercut by a considerable buttery diacetyl thing. This is swept up in the bitterness and thankfully doesn't last, with the malt half of the beer turning instead to more palatable bubblegum fruitiness. It's enjoyable, but it's far from the odyssey I was expecting.

Unlike Platform C, the IPA. These two seem to have switched bottles on the way across the Irish Sea because I'd expect an IPA to be fraught with the dangers of too-thick malt and diacetyl interference and I'd expect the blonde to be, well, more blonde, pale and clean. OK, it may not be paler, but Platform C is by far the cleaner of the two, with a perfect base of soft, subtle biscuity malt allowing a gorgeously expressive and juicy C-hop character drive the beer. Fresh and punchy with its grapefruit flesh for the first half of the bottle, candied orange sweetness for the warmer second half, but never losing the clean control. This is the kind of thing I wish all brewers would strive to achieve with their American pale ale and IPA releases, an execution the likes of which I've seen from Althea and Little Fawn among others here in Ireland.

Despite the respective names of these beers, it is the IPA that takes you on the New World odyssey while the blonde is still playing catch up.

Monday, 20 March 2017

#332: Quadruple Dutch

At least once a year I find myself unpacking a handful of bottles from a suitcase from Amsterdam and 2016 was no exception. The best thing to do with the styles I brought home this time was to horde them for the long dark winter and pick them off like a private Dutch beer festival.

The first decapitated is Wuldar, a barleywine from Walhalla, and as old world in style as the branding somewhat suggests. It's a fairly clear dark red and gives raisiny rich malt on the nose. This is largely the same to taste; thick and malty with maple syrup and dark autumnal fruit. Simple in its own way, Wuldar makes for wonderfully contemplative and cosy drinking by the fireside.

No such handful of bottles is complete without a De Molen or two and the first I opened is Wal and Schip Wild Turkey B.A. This one was bottled in December 2014, and may have been picked up the previous year, but who's counting? Blakc and brown it pours, oozing gorgeous biscuit alt and vanilla with a slight savoury side. Another exemplar of dark malt complexity, there's more figs and raisins to be found here. Rich, sweet and fruity on a woody vanilla backing with malted biscuit - I mean it seems obvious, but there you go. The bourbon barrel is thankfully well integrated and doesn't overpower everything with sickly vanilla syrup. In fact, it reminds me more than once of the best bourboned beer I've had, Bourbon County. Once again its a comforting drink that warms up to give marzipan and palate-smacking savoury malt goodness.

Another stout from another barrel is Emelisse's White Label Imperial Stout from a Bruichladdich barrel. This one's got more chocolate than the De Molen and the whisky influence shows itself as a bit of spirity heat, but it remains smooth and round. There's rich, round chocolatey stuff throughout, making it a particularly indulgent and dessert-like beer, showing a touch of sweetness.

Surprisingly less chocolatey is Ciel Bleu Imperial Stout from Brouwerij 't IJ, with collaborative input from the Michelin-starred Ciel Bleu restaurant and chocolate makers, er, the Chocolatemakers. Far from the liquid dessert I was expecting, this is disappointingly thin and mild, especially considering the 10.2% ABV. Still, it was easy drinking which is its own achievement, and I finsihed it happily enough before long. 

A mixed bag, perhaps, but as with all Nederland-born hauls, fun was had.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

#331: Wild Things

Oddity seems to be Wild Beer Co's thing and if there's anything I could take away from the label and description of Shnoodlepip it's that it is odd. One couldn't possibly come away with anything like a meaningful set of expectations of a beer that contains spelt, pink peppercorns, hibiscus and spends four months in French red wine barrels and is fermented with a combination of saison and Brettanomyces yeasts. 

Whatever the case it's at first clearly dry but with a nice prickly, tangy sourness to the fore. The nose gets herbal, floral and spicy stuff but I'm of a mind to assume that's as much a saison yeast contribution as it is a flower contribution but hey, it works so who cares. It's also cooling, minty and quite green on the palate with is wholly unusual but nothing like the ghastly concoction found in Fantome. After some time it opens up to some almost juicy fruitiness - again, tart - before the flash of pepper does make itself known at the finish. 

There's no reason a beer that's seen so much extra-curricular fiddling should work to reach a beautifully balanced, drinkable and refreshing conclusion but Schnoodlepip does. 

I had less luck with the Brett Brett Double IPA (no prizes for guessing what this is), even though it first presents a gorgeous aroma - cool, fruity and sherbety, all lemon skins and acid that gets the hopes up. To taste it's very slightly tart, but the headline of this beer is a big bitter effect that, while dry and approachable to begin with, gets tough going as time goes on, as it becomes more and more bitter, tangy, syrupy and coarse at once. One to pass over.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

#330: Tradecraft

This is a companion can to the Aftermath I had in Amsterdam from Californians Black Market Brewing, and the first blackberry sour ale I've had to date - interesting not only as a point of difference from the usual cherry/raspberry stuff but also considering the ease with which wild blackberries can be foraged in Ireland.

The beer is called Tradecraft and I believe it's one of a few versions of the same base beer, each fruited differently. 

At 3.8% it opens wonderfully tasty and very drinkable; a pinky-peach-tinged amber, it shows off blackberry jam sweetness and a typical sour wheaty grist on the nose; this is most likely some descendant of a Berliner weisse. There's a fullness to the body I wouldn't have expected for the strength, almost feeling rich and confected with the jam thing still doing it's work. This is all scrubbed up neatly by a wave of tartness and bubbly carbonation leaving only that light, friendly, pinkish sweetness behind. 

Lots of delicious fun.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

#329: Tildonkers

In the second half of 2016 something changed in my beer drinking. The over-saturation of new Irish beers (which is not in itself a problem to me - more choice and the good ones will stay on while that bad ones will drop off) finally overwhelmed me in what I considered the original purpose of this blog; to chart a course through the hypertrophic growth of the Irish craft beer scene, buying and trying virtually everything new that Irish brewers were making as well as assessing new and exciting imports. In itself, this would be a full time job, requiring another full time job or two to fund it.

And all of this before we get to drain pours. Yes, among Irish beers and a few imports I found myself not enjoying more and more new beers and where once I would stick it out for the sake of getting my money's worth I've now taken to gleefully dumping them. 

The result of this is that I've become more enamoured with the beers and styles of beers and breweries that I know or at least am pretty sure I'll like. So for a time you'll be seeing fewer new Irish 'Indian pale ales' [sic] and more imports and for that I make only a half-hearted apology.

Still, it hasn't dampened my enthusiasm for new beer and breweries so when goods from Hof ten Dormaal made a brief appearance at the Bierhaus I took a pair of bottles home.

I'd heard plenty of cooing over Frambuesa i Chocolate from proprietor Dave who'd encountered it in Brussels and I wasn't disappointed when I found it in my own glass. It's described on the label simply as a 'dark beer with raspberries' but pours very much like a stout. There's a sour, lactic tang to the nose that immediately introduces tart raspberry and, yup, it's fresh, sweet and tart juicy raspberries on the tongue too. Any worries about the chocolate side of this beer being a powdery, sickly sweet mess are unfounded; this is by far and a away a dominantly sour beer with real puckering power going on and just a smooth slickness of dark malt to help round things out. It's desperately easy to drink and one wishes it was easier to find.

The Zure van Tildonk 2014 is, like the above beer, another limited edition and another sour beer, this time a familiar hazy blonde. So familiar in fact that it plays like a fairly convincing tribute to the beers of Lembeek at first, with a sharp acidic sourness on a beautifully full body. Behind that, though, there's a strap of sweetness throughout, not unlike the kind of thing you find in the older Rodenbachs but without the deep, chewy malts of those beers. I often think of lemon sherbert when I come across a pale sour beer with echoes of sweetness but I think this is by far the most appropriate recipient of that descriptor; it finally actually tastes like lemon sherbert and it is delicious, even if it does turn a tad syrupy towards the finish.

Two wonderful beers, and more than enough to build up a considerable bank of credibility for the brewer in my book.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

#328: Blackeyed

I am more than prepared to eat, or indeed drink, my words. When I - and many other beer folk loitering on Twitter in Ireland - found out that Brewdog's canned imperial stout was hitting the shelves with a price tag of €11.95 I scoffed and virtually shook my head and said "well really". Sure enough, a combination of The Beer Nut and Matthew Curtis (follow both) pointed out that 1) it would be roughly the same price here as it is direct from the brewer, a rarity in Ireland's alcohol tax landscape and 2) that the bourbon barrels, vanilla and particularly the Vietnamese coffee beans used are pretty expensive stuff. Still, it's a €12 can of beer 12.7% ABV or not.

Obviously, the beer in question is Black Eyed King Imp - Vietnamese Coffee Edition. Obviously I only went and bought one. Obviously it turned out to be rather good.

Obviously it's pitch black with a brown head but this doesn't stay long. The first vapour wave to cascade from the glass is a smooth sweet vanilla thing - thankfully not a whack of bourbon - though it does come with a slice of wood. All the characteristics you'd expect from the additions are there; dark chocolate, vanilla, espresso - it's quite difficult to separate the beer from the additions, in fact. From this, I guess you have to accept it as a well integrated beer the likes of KBS but with all the character and intensity that I never got from bottled KBS. It's not dramatically complex but it is incredibly rich, delivering plenty of dessert-like characteristics and balancing black bitterness. I was hoping for the sort of savoury turn that Bourbon County Vanilla had, but I suppose more patience is required for that sort of thing to develop; here, the cask influence is much more of a syrupy, full-on bourbon player.
All in all, it works bloody well and is the closest I've come to reliving the wonders of the aforementioned Bourbon County Vanilla Brand stout from a couple of years ago.

So for all my initial naysaying I inevitably recommend this, and I even recommend tucking one away for a while.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

#327: Thursday Morning Comeback

I lengthy application process for a post grad diploma in Brewing and Distilling (it worked, wahoo!), a number of artistic projects, a busy work schedule and, perhaps most devastating of all, a long post-in-progress that I never saved and lost to the ether all conspired to keep me off this blog for quite some time. Indeed, I was glad to forget about it and consign it to the scrapheap for a while, such was my preoccupation.
But, there is a gap in that mess this morning and I am nothing if not persistent so here is the only collection of beer notes I am bothered to salvage from the many logged last year; after this, it's winter 16/17 onwards and no looking back.

We will look quite a ways back for now though, all the way to August of last year and a quick roundup of beers that were had out and about in Amsterdam.

Neerlands Wild
We start, as ever, in 't Arendsnest, with Emelisse's Oak Aged Imperial Stout, the Ardbeg version. As a 9%er it's robust, dry and bitter but lacking any sign of that booze. Alas, it also lacks any sign of Islay. It is smoky, but in a rather more Irish, roasted barley kind of way. It's in no way bad, but you don't get a great return for the ABV or the cask.

My sweet tooth pulled me then towards Jopen's rye wine, Don't tRye This At Home. And yes, it sweet. It's murky, sugary but not cloying, offering a satisfying dessert beer thing along the lines of Schneider's Aventinus, minus some spice. Chewy toffee syrup-smothered malts form the main effect and the whole thing nicely scratched an itch.

Next up is Neerlands Wild from Klein Duimpje. It's dark and sour to start with, all pulped red berries. There are some really big woody tannins that elbow into the middle and dominate proceedings. What's worse is that this soon reveals itself to be some bourbon-barrel hamfistedness the likes of which Alltech have been perfecting over the years; shades of the good stuff - balsamic vinegar, juicy red fruit - are completely lost amidst coarse, bitter wood shavings. Tough going.

The only other bar I visited in Amsterdam itself was Craft and Draft on Overtoom. As it's part of the same empire as the Arendsnest and Bier Temple, there were a couple of overlaps on the tap list, but Craft and Draft had beer from absolutely everywhere. Still, I stayed Dutch with Noordtwaarts Saison, brewed for Morebeer at Noordt. It's dry if not bone dry, but has a decent peppery scrubbing effect, leaving it tasty, light and incredibly easy to drink. I'm not sure whether they were indicative of an actual spice addition or not but there's also some coriander and lemon in the otherwise caramel-toned finish. Pleasant stuff, if not quite Dupont territory. 

When I ordered De Prael's Scotch Ale I thought I was getting something along the lines of Dirty Bastard or Scotch Silly - you know, a chewy, toffee malt number. Instead I'm presented with a pale, orangey, honey-nosed thing; there are sweet floral bouquets and an odd streak of meaty rauchbier smoke that I guess was a misguided approximation of Islay peat. It's a bit bloomy, mushroomy even, with flashes of what might be heather. Or maybe those are the quiet bagpipes looping in the back of my mind as I sip. Either way it's interesting and quite nice.

Bald Eagle
Still, I had been looking for a less sophisticated sugar-bomb and I came closer to the mark with The Big Fat 5, an 8% IPA that is also a Morebeer release, this time brewed by 't Uiltje. It oozes pungent, ripe fruit of the banana, mango and pineapple sort, with a sweetness reminiscent of similarly flavoured baby food. Ditto says the palate, a sweet tutti frutti mix that won't stand as classic DIPA stuff in my book, but is a fun and fruity change of pace all the same. The body remains surprisingly light, which helps with drinkability at first, but by the of even the wee glass I had, I'd seen enough of the beer.

Kompaan's Bloedbroeder is where I finished up and it's a particularly meaty, bloody and sharply smokey stout. At 9% it doesn't carry the usual trappings a big stout; no booze, no chew, no real body or depth. It plays like a porter of half its size and while it may be objectively interesting, it didn't quite do it for me.

Unsurprisingly, later in the week I found myself back by the canal - this time a much sunnier one - outside the Arendsnest. Inevitably, I had another Morebeer DIPA in my hand, this time Bald Eagle brewed at Kees. It's beautifully fresh and tropical fruit nose lasts about two minutes in the direct sunlight before it develops a streak of cardboardy skunk but, thankfully, this only affects the nose. It's smooth and full bodied and drinks way too easy for its 8%, but that juice has to go somewhere.

Oedipus were back on the menu with Frazzled, a farmhouse stout with blueberries. It's mainly dry and definitely blueberried, with a murky and muddy purple-capped appearance to show for its weird fermentation and fiddling processes. Light and slightly tart as it is, it's surprisingly easy to drink, with a small blackcurrant cordial sweetness hiding in the middle.

The penultimate beer to report is Archimedes Q, a porter (geddit?) from Amsterdam's own Butcher's Tears. Porter my arse, this is sour red stuff right out the gap, with a finish of those Caffé Noir biscuits that they should really stop making. A helping of woody tannins gives you a clue as to what's been going on, but this is beautiful stuff. The mixture of sour, juicy Flanders red and respectably roasty elements is a new one on me, but Butcher's Tears have made it work wonderfully.

Finally, and rather underwhelmingly, is All Black, a foreign stout from Stanislaus Brewskovitch. It's dry and beefed-up and all well and good, but ultimately nothing more than an average, roasty stout.